Free Markets, Not Feminism, Are Killing Porn

Technology and free markets have done more to hurt porn in ten years than feminism managed in fifty.

The feminist movement has long had the porn industry in its sights. Not without some justification, it’s seen as a manifestation of misogynism and patriarchy, disguised as a bit of harmless fun. Women in porn were impossibly perfect physical specimens; their only purpose was to please men. Petitions, lobbying, protests and angry letters were all deployed to curtail the ultimate objectifies of women. Feminists even allied themselves with religious groups and social conservatives, yet even the combined power of these unlikely bedfellows couldn’t bring down the beast.

The market is to blame (or thanks) for this. As any anthropologist or psychologist will tell you, humans have always been fascinated with the business end of procreation. The earliest cave paintings were of human figures engaged in humanity’s favourite past time. Defenders of the industry played the civil liberties card, and played it well. Why, they asked, should responsible adults not be allowed to view images and film made by other consenting adults? It was a simplistic argument that ignored the wider societal effects of porn, but it was enough.

Then the internet happened.

The porn industry was initially quick to take advantage of the new medium. Photos and videos may have taken an age to crawl through a dial up connection, but for the first time people didn’t have to leave the house to get fresh material, and they were willing to pay for the privilege. Long before Amazon and eBay, porn peddlers were the blazing the trail of online commerce. It seemed good times lay ahead for the likes of Playboy and Penthouse. But the internet changed. Users got savvier and demanded more for less. It didn’t take long before forums were established where people shared their hitherto private stash with fellow enthusiasts. You didn’t need to pay anymore, provided you were also willing to share. Just like with music and movies today, users had the option of buying direct from the source, or using free peer to peer file traders.2405791725_a2ca416226_o

To its credit, the porn industry tried to respond. For a fee, users got access to ‘premium’ material. But it wasn’t long before this was duly downloaded (legally or otherwise) and shared. Plan B was to make the experience more interactive; users could pay for one-to-one sessions with their favourite models and actresses, asking them to perform live. This has been more successful, but the business model was quickly adopted by entrepreneurial amateurs who could provide the same service in their living room, and only ask for voluntary donations. Some money is made from advertising on sites, but its falling short of what’s needed to cover costs of traditional porn. When an actress can charge £700-£1,000 for a single scene, it’s easy to see how costs add up.

Just like record labels and Hollywood studios, porn industry bosses are scrambling to find new revenue streams.

There’s now an entire generation of young people for whom paying for a film, a song or a self induced orgasm, is an alien concept.

It’s difficult to put a figure on just how badly the porn industry has been affected by the internet, because it’s not always clear where it starts and ends. Does a studio lot that allows porn and non-porn filming count? Do the likes of FHM and Nuts magazine count? Figures from the US are a useful guide. Adult Video News, a trade magazine, estimates that the American industry had some $6 billion in revenues in 2007. Diane Duke, the director of the Free Speech Coalition, the adult industry’s trade group, thinks that revenues fell 30-50% between 2007 and 2008. Porn bosses have even approached Congress for a bailout.

Whatever the figure, it’s clear that the traditional porn industry business model is struggling.

But the morality police shouldn’t pop the champagne just yet. The traditional porn industry may be crumbling, but rather than the whole genre disappearing, it’s being replaced with something new. Porn is becoming democratised. Viewers are now contributors. Mobile telephones and webcams are replacing film sets and studios. Type ‘porn’ into Google and you’ll get just as many amateur websites offered to you as professional ones.

ID-10025157The proliferation of affordable high quality photographic and recoding equipment allows individuals, couples and groups to photograph and film themselves then post it online in moments. Cash, exhibitionism or simple narcissism are all equally valid catalysts.

When combined with what’s already online, there are more sexual images of women available now then there ever were before.

And its not just production; consumption has evolved too. Previous generations had to skulk into a newsagent and buy a magazine, plus a newspaper with which to hide it. Even when we got the internet, we were tied to the computer desk. This obviously limited how much a person could see. But today smartphones and tablets allow all manner of titillating images to be viewed in the palm of your hand. (I’ll let you make your own joke there)

But the industry isn’t going down (leave it!) without a fight. Like any good business, it’s evolving.

Firstly, it’s starting to focus on niche sub categories and fetishes, bringing its professionalism, slick production and experience to into the hitherto unexplored corners of the market. Cosplay, bondage, S&M and even torture porn are getting the professional treatment. These markets are by definition small, but they are an untapped revenue stream precisely because they have been ignored for so long.

Secondly there’s technology. Porn makers are hoping 3D-TV will allow them to revolutionise the way people watch porn, and think/hope that unlike the internet, it’ll be a very long time before amateurs can compete on that platform. Smartphone applications also being explored, again with the hope that quality will trump quantity, at least for some.

The third area of potential revenue is merchandise. Rather than simply selling something you see, the adult entertainment industry is starting market and sell things people can use. Oils, lingerie lubes, costumes, and sex toys are now mainstream, no longer the preserve of seedy sex shops. And as we all know…you can’t download a dildo.

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